'I blundered' admits Juppe

13th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 13 (AFP) - Disgraced former French prime minister Alain Juppe, fighting to retain public office after a corruption conviction, admitted to an appeals court Wednesday he may have made "errors" - but never deliberately.

PARIS, Oct 13 (AFP) - Disgraced former French prime minister Alain Juppe, fighting to retain public office after a corruption conviction, admitted to an appeals court Wednesday he may have made "errors" - but never deliberately.  

"I don't pretend to be beyond reproach. I probably committed errors, even blunders, through negligence, but in all conscience I never had the intention to break the law," he said at the start of the hearing in Versailles, outside Paris.  

Juppe, a close ally of President Jacques Chirac, was found guilty in January of "taking illegal benefits" for arranging the payment of party workers with Paris municipal funds between 1988 and 1995.  

He was given an 18-month suspended jail term, which under electoral rules means an automatic disqualification from office for 10 years.  

But if on appeal he is able to have the jail time quashed or replaced with some other, non-custodial, punishment, the ban on his political career would be lifted.  

Juppe told the chief judge Wednesday that he had been "deeply shaken" by the Janaury conviction.  

"I don't think I 'betrayed the confidence of the people'," he said, using a term applied in that verdict.  

"Are you hoping to be acquitted?" the judge asked.  

"I hope to be able to convince you to do so, but that will be for the court to judge," Juppe replied.  

While the conviction spelt the end of his hopes of one day becoming French president as Chirac's preferred successor and forced his resignation as head of Chirac's ruling UMP party, Juppe has remained as mayor of the southwestern city of Bordeaux pending the appeal.  

The 59-year-old politician, who served as prime minister from 1995 to 1997, was dogged by funding allegations dating from Chirac's long tenancy as mayor of Paris, when he was shown in court to have connived in a conspiracy to have staffers at the Rally for the Republic (RPR) - the UMP's precursor - draw salaries from city hall.  

During his January trial, Juppe used the cold, unruffled style that earned him little popularity with French voters, saying he only became aware of the illicit salaries in 1993 and then tried to put a stop to it. He also insisted that the RPR staffers really did work for the city.  

But he was contradicted by one of his former colleagues who told the court that "everyone knew" about the system, which amounted to using municipal funds for illegal party funding.  

Chirac has escaped questioning over the matter by asserting presidential immunity.  

A total of 21 people were convicted in the original trial and five of them are alongside Juppe for the appeal, which is expected last two weeks.  

Juppe's resignation from the leadership of the UMP opened the way for the rising star of the centre-right, Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who is to take over the party next month.  

Engaged in a bitter rivalry with Chirac, Sarkozy is expected to use the post to launch a presidential bid in 2007.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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